Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

In workplace showdowns, boss usually wins

Q: One of my co-workers, "Andrea," was recently promoted to a higher-level position. I applied for the same job, but was never even interviewed, despite the fact that I have more experience and my work is more complex. My boss says Andrea has the necessary qualifications, but I have investigated and found that this is not true.

I have also learned that my manager secretly helped Andrea prepare for the interview. But when I requested a recommendation, she never followed through. Now I'm concerned that she may be belittling me to other managers in the company.

I find myself spending a lot of time monitoring my manager's behavior and trying to keep other people in the group on my side. I would really like to move to another department, because all this negativity is exhausting. Do you have any advice?

A: Saying that you need to "keep people on your side" makes it sound as though you are engaged in some sort of battle with your boss. If she perceives you as adversarial, that may explain her reluctance to recommend you for a higher-level job. Promotions are seldom given to employees who are considered difficult, even if they are well-qualified.

Since managers always have their own grapevine, your boss' negative perception might also affect your ability to transfer within the company. Just as employees gossip about bosses, bosses also talk about employees. Without "belittling" you, your manager could still share the opinion that you are somewhat challenging to manage.

The bottom line is that, even if you dislike your manager, you will nevertheless benefit from having her support. So instead of wasting energy investigating your colleagues and fretting about lost opportunities, you would be wise to focus on building a better relationship with her. In the long run, employees who go to war with the boss usually lose, simply because managers have more power.

Hotheaded ex-boss hurts job search

Q: I recently quit my job after six years of dealing with the owner's erratic behavior. The last straw came when he swung his fist and punched a hole in my office door. I immediately wrote a letter of resignation, gathered my things and walked out.

Since then, I have lost two job opportunities after employers talked with my former boss. I was told that he said some very unflattering things about me. I have consulted an attorney, but would rather not pay legal fees. What should I do?

A: If there's any chance that your volatile boss might cooperate, one option is to contact him and calmly try to negotiate what he will tell prospective employers. If you can lower the emotional temperature, he might agree to be less obstructive.

Another possibility is to find other responsible people who can vouch for your competence. Their agreement to act as references becomes part of the third strategy, which involves preparing interviewers for your former boss' negative review.

For example: "Unfortunately, my former manager was quite angry when I resigned, and I've been told that he's making negative comments about me. However, I have several other references who can confirm the quality of my work."

As a final option, your attorney could send a strongly worded letter reminding the owner of the reason for your resignation and requesting that he cease his disparaging remarks. If this approach shuts him up, it might be worth the cost.

Secretary shares too much information

Q: I manage the administrative office in a high school. One of our secretaries, "Cheryl," has a habit of openly talking about her personal problems and family issues with teachers, students and parents. I have mentioned that she is sharing too much information, but Cheryl sees nothing wrong with this. What is the proper etiquette in this situation?

A: This is not an etiquette issue. It's a management issue. As the person responsible for establishing office standards, you have an obligation to keep employees from engaging in unsuitable behavior.

For example: "Cheryl, friendliness is certainly one of your strengths, but there is a difference between being friendly and being unprofessional. Discussing your personal problems with students and parents is completely inappropriate, so I need for you to stop doing this. If you're not sure where to draw the line, I will be glad to clarify what's acceptable."

Whether Cheryl agrees with this rule really doesn't matter. Once you have explained your expectations, she simply needs to abide by them.

In workplace showdowns, boss usually wins 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 3:31am]

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